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“Mother’s Day will be a special day at Panama Rocks this year,” said John Weston, general manager and 2nd generation owner of the region’s most spectacular natural wonder. The Weston family has owned and operated the popular local attraction for nearly 40 years, welcoming 15,000 guests and fascinating 18,000 Facebook visitors in 2015 alone.
Mother’s Day weekend marks opening day of the 2016 season at Panama Rocks. Every mom who takes a tour on Mother’s Day weekend, beginning May 7, will receive a specially selected, custom collection of native wildflower seeds just in time for this year’s spring planting. Five percent of the Mother’s Day profits will be donated to Kallie’s Krusade in support of care and cure of childhood cancer patients, inspired by Kallie Swan of Falconer, New York.
John Weston, his wife Holly and their 6-month-old daughter, Lillia, have joined John’s parents, Craig and Sandi, at their century and a half old Homestead in Panama New York to manage the famous Panama Rocks Scenic Park.
“One of the great pleasures of managing this park is that I meet people from all around the world,” John said. “Just last year, we welcomed people from Italy, Germany, France, Poland and all across the USA.”
According to the website, Trip Advisor.com, Panama rocks is Chautauqua County’s number one tourist attraction.
The Ancient Wonder Next Door
Three hundred million years in the making – with the finishing touches contributed by North America’s glaciers only 10,000 years ago – Panama Rocks is a towering stone city in the forest and a startling maze of canyon-like crevasses. It is one of the world’s natural wonders.
Today, Panama Rocks is also home to many living natural wonders, like the majestic 1,000-year-old Hemlock trees in this part of Chautauqua County’s last surviving 1 percent of true Old Growth forest. They are accompanied by rare ferns and the seldom seen, foot-long Hellbender salamander, a last surviving relic of a 65 million year-old species, all amid the rocky, sea floor remnants of the primordial Grenville Sea that once covered vast inland reaches of North America.
A few arrowheads and other archeological artifacts of the region’s Eriez (Cat People) Native Americans have also been found on the 65 acre site. Some finds are thought to date as far back as 3,000 to 5,000 years.
Bring Back the Monarchs
The spring blossoms and the greening forest at Panama Rocks make their Mother’s Day seed packets a natural gift for the day’s guests. “We want to help bring native pollinators back to neighborhood flower gardens,” Weston said.
“Invasive species are choking out many of our most beautiful native plants all across America,” Weston explained. “And the birds, butterflies and pollinating insects that depend on them are disappearing.”
The beautiful monarch butterfly, for instance, migrates thousands of miles every year from North America to Central America to overwinter. The monarch, however, needs milkweed pods for its young to survive. But herbicides and industrial farming practices have eliminated so many natural stands of milkweed that the monarch population has plummeted by 95%. A simple flower garden planting of native milkweed can help rescue this beautiful and enigmatic native species.
Monarch rescue is only one example of the many neighborhood beautification benefits of the Panama Rocks Native Seed Packet offered at no cost to Mother’s Day visitors.
Fun Among the Rocks
Many of the stony pillars and mossy cliffs at Panama Rocks stand 50 to 60 feet above the forest floor, separated by mere feet or inches with deep, secret chasms. One such crevasse harbors winter snow and ice until late in July every year and is said to have served as a natural game refrigerator for Native American hunters since long before European explorers arrived on the continent.
Another popular attraction is a rock formation which has been aptly named “Fat Man’s Misery”. The gap between enormous boulders seems to tempt the intrepid visitor to squeeze him/herself through. None but the slimmest, however, can manage the feat… though many try, only to be squeezed breathless, teased mercilessly and pulled back out by friends.
“Kids will quickly forget their video games for an afternoon,” Weston promised. “It is an outdoor adventure they will never forget. Kids quickly ‘get it’ about the outdoors.” Though John Weston grew up at Panama Rocks, he reminds visitors that even he was not allowed to roam there alone until he was 12 years old. All tours are self-guided, following a provided trail map, but guests are cautioned to stay on trails along the mile-long scenic course.
“Last year 4,000 people took the Treasure Hunt Tour,” Weston added. “They learned about nature as fun and found some of nature’s finest treasures along the route.”
John Weston, like many local youth, left Western New York after graduating from high school. John, however, came back. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Cornell University first, though, and launched a promising career in Washington, DC as New York Congressman Higgins’ senior policy advisor and Congressional liaison for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC).
“But I have no regrets about moving back home,” Weston said. “That career path didn’t seem compatible with the kind of family life my wife and I wanted.”
“The reason I really wanted to come back is that there is so much we can do here. And we can do it ethically and sustainably. We are protecting this unique heritage forest. It deserves preservation. We believe it is important to learn how to live with the wild places.” Panama Rocks first opened as a tourist attraction in 1885, the same year the nation’s first national park, Niagara Falls, was chartered.
Jamestown Gazette readers are invited to visit www.panamarocks.com and Panama Rocks on Facebook to see photos, videos and more. Panama Rocks is open daily, 10:00am until 5:00pm, from early May until late October. Guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. No pets are allowed.